The Church does not proceed, even toward Divinely-fixed and appointed ends, by a protected course. Even with the Lord’s end in view, we do not go by a way that is completely immune either from our weaknesses or from difficulties and adversities, and things which seem to upset completely all our plans. Our whole course will always be that of Divine overruling, not only ruling as in the unseen, but overruling in the seen. You must ever remember that those two things go hand in hand. God is ruling in the unseen; He is overruling in the seen. In the course there will always be plenty of room for an argument as to misadventure, calamity, defeat, tragedy, giving rise to regret, doubt and even condemnation. If we are so disposed, we can say, ‘Oh, this is a calamity, this is defeat! This is due to my mistake, and everything is wrecked!’
Had Paul been of another kind, like some of us, he would have said, ‘I wish I had not appealed to Caesar (Acts 26:32)! See what trouble I have got myself into (shipwreck)! I am going to the bottom of the sea, and all my work is finished!’ There is always room for that if we are so disposed, and thus to get under condemnation because we have made mistakes. The Lord has never so acted with His people that there was no room for anything like that. If we want to doubt, we shall have plenty of occasion for doubting. If we want to speak of tragedy, we shall have plenty of tragic experience. If we are disposed to get under condemnation, there will be plenty to take on.
The way to God’s end is not a way free from these elements or from the possibility of so interpreting things. It will be that, in all and through all, God overrules, and at last we shall be able to exclaim, as Paul did, “and so we came to Rome” (Acts 28:14); the end reached through so much. What is the end in view? It is not just to journey to see this temporal Rome. The end which looms up out of that visit is the great calling and destiny of the Church in union with Christ who in all things has the pre-eminence. That is the sum of the letters to the Ephesians, Colossians and Philippians – the preeminence of Christ, and the Church united with Him therein. That is the end of the journey; that is what is in view beyond.